The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates

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80,000 words hardcover
Manuscript available October 2009


Canada: Random House, Apr 2010


Judy Fong Bates (Photo: Michael Bates)
(Photo: Michael Bates)

Judy Fong Bates came to Canada from China at age five and grew up above Chinese laundries in several small Ontario towns. Her stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in several magazines. Her first book was the collection China Dog and Other Stories. Her first novel, Midnight at the Dragon Café, was an Everybody Reads selection for the city of Portland, Oregon. Both books were released to critical acclaim in the USA and Canada. Judy lives with her husband in Ontario.

The Year of Finding Memory
A Memoir

by Judy Fong Bates


The Year of Finding Memory coverGrowing up in her father’s hand laundry in small-town Ontario, Judy Fong Bates listened to the mystery and allure of her parents’ stories of their past lives in China, an exotic and exciting place far removed from their humdrum everyday lives. Then a half-century after her arrival, Judy Fong Bates, her husband and her brothers travelled back to China for the first time.

The reunion with her older sister and other relatives in China spiralled into a series of unanticipated and shocking discoveries. In her ancestral village she heard stories of her mother, a glamorous young woman who arrived from the big city to teach, chasing her father, the exalted village leader and wealthy Gold Mountain Guest. These stories didn’t match what she’d witnessed of her parents, who were poverty-stricken and always at odds with each other. Possessed with a need to reconcile these facts, Fong Bates returned a year later and immersed herself in a place so unexpectedly bountiful that she finally began to understand her parents in a way that she never did when they were alive.

Opening with a shock as moving as the one that powers The Glass Castle, The Year of Finding Memory explores in elegant, simple prose, a world of family secrets, sacrifice, love, loss, courage and shame. At the heart of this memoir is a daughter’s emotional journey, her painful acceptance of conflicting truths. In telling the story of her parents, Fong Bates is telling the story of how she belatedly came to know them, of finding memory.


“This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir. Fong Bates shifts masterfully between various times and places, from her mother’s arrival in Vancouver by propeller plane in 1955 to her family’s return to China more than 50 years later. She confronts her own prejudices, finally realizing that the years she spent with her unhappy parents were in fact a gift from two people who had suffered greatly.”  — QUILL & QUIRE, starred review

“With the elegant brush strokes of a miniaturist, Judy Fong Bates constructs, out of the debris of her family’s past, a poignant understanding of both her own ancestry and the passage we must all take to comprehend ourselves. The Year of Finding Memory is an engrossing account of that journey, which seeks, in the end, happiness and peace.”  — SHYAM SELVADURAI, author of Funny Boy

The Year of Finding Memory is the most accurate and heartfelt account that I’ve ever read of what it’s like to explore the Chinese countryside in search of your roots. Judy Fong Bates captures the beauty of the villages, the sense of returning home to a place you’ve never been, the heartache, joy, understanding and longing, and that very real there-but-for-the-grace-of-God emotion that you experience in meeting your relatives who were left behind. Beautiful!”  — LISA SEE, author of Shanghai Girls and Peony in Love

With admirable heart, Judy Fong Bates portrays the ever-present desire to make sense of our origins. She conjures unforgettable images of a childhood on two continents, and of two unhappy parents, who, even after the last page, we long to know, if only fleetingly, found love between them.”  — DENISE CHONG, author of The Concubine's Children

“A moving and informative memoir.”  — THE LONDON FREE PRESS

“… this memoir, like all true memoirs, has the piercing sharpness of unexpected life-affecting revelations. … this is one of those rare memoirs where the reader never wants the book to end.”  — THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“[A] quiet read, written like a song in a minor key, with many refrains.”  — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Praise for Judy Fong Bates' Midnight at the Dragon Café

“In deceptively simple, intimate prose, Judy Fong Bates captures the complexities of a childhood filled with secrets, longing, and superstition, and powerfully exposes the lengths to which families will go to survive. Midnight at the Dragon Café is an original, haunting debut novel.”  — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“The mounting suspense of family secrets makes this first novel a breathless read, even as the simple, beautiful words make you want to stop and read the sentences over and over again.”  — BOOKLIST, starred review

“... Bates writes in clean, understated prose, imbuing her characters with a lasting poignancy.”  — ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

“Judy Fong Bates catches and holds our attention like a teacher of unruly kids: She whispers…. Bates’s unpretentious prose keeps the potential melodrama in check.”  — THE WASHINGTON POST

“A fascinating and finely crafted work of fiction…. Compelling…. Absorbing and alluring…”  — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS



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